Suppose a Sentence

NYRB. Feb. 2021. 150p. ISBN 9781913097011. pap. $15.95. LIT
Dillon, editor of Cabinet Magazine, pondered the essay style in Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction. Now, he ruminates on the mechanics of 27 sentences culled from his notebooks and presented in order of date of publication. Some of the passages are taken from essays (e.g., James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, Annie Dillard), novels (Brontë, George Eliot), and prose works (e.g., De Quincey, Sir Thomas Browne, Ruskin). Dillon acknowledges that his “relationship” or “affinity” with a sentence will allow an improvisation of syntactic and stylistic observation, digression, and allusion. Inevitably, substantive analysis and reader engagement are compromised. Some sentence diagnostics are reasonably convincing: the passage taken from De Quincy’s Suspiria De Profundis(1845), with its intimation of the photographic process, the fragment from Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” (1926), elaborating the motivation for her revision, and the extract from Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse”(1985), with allusions to the eclipse essays of Woolf and Anne Carson.
VERDICT Dillon’s riffs on his chosen sentences are often impressionistic, meandering, and thin, resulting in a text riddled with misconceptions, albeit from an especially energetic, literary mind.
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